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The Mars 500 isolation facility where six crewmembers will live  (Source: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Six people are now locked inside a simulation chamber that will mimic a mission to Mars

A highly anticipated 520-day simulation of a manned mission to Mars is now underway in a virtual spacecraft that is located in Moscow.

As part of the monitored test, all six participants will not be able to leave the controlled environment until the project ends in November 2011.  The first 250 days will focus on a mock flight to Mars, with a 30-day scheduled "exploration" of the Martian surface, and a 230-day return trip.

There are three Russians, one French citizen, one Italian-Colombian, and one Chinese citizen currently living in the Mars500 isolation facility.  The crew will have two days off each week, but must remain inside of the capsule during the entire mock mission.

"Certainly, the crew is largely on its own here, with very limited communications with the outside world," said Martin Zell, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, in an interview with the AP.  "They have to cope internally with a lot of conditions and to organize themselves."

The six-man crew will be able to communicate with their friends and family using the internet -- which will be interrupted to help mimic in-space communications -- and can only consume canned and freeze dried supplies like on the International Space Station (ISS).

Some critics have said that this mission isn't realistic, but the organizers of the mission, led by the European, Russian and Chinese space programs, said it will give the countries a better insight into how certain technologies will work in space.

As the ISS mission winds down, space nations already have their sights set on manned missions to Mars.  It's likely the moon will be used as a stepping stone to the Red Planet, as it'll still be decades before a country is expected to launch a crew to Mars.

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I wonder...
By deanx0r on 6/3/2010 10:50:10 PM , Rating: -1
Is there a good reason to send a manned mission to Mars now?

RE: I wonder...
By MozeeToby on 6/3/2010 11:10:45 PM , Rating: 3
In all honesty there probably isn't a whole lot of use in a manned Mars mission until we're ready to go there and stay there. However, there are plenty of other, more immediately useful destinations that this research is still applicable to. Mining of the moon (for helium3) or near earth asteroids (for metal and rocket fuel) comes to mind, both of which will involve small teams of people in a small enclosed space for long periods.

RE: I wonder...
By gigahertz20 on 6/3/2010 11:42:49 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think it's practical to send humans to Mars unless the trip can be completed in only a few months. No reason to make somebody waste a year of their life just to step foot on the red planet, and come back. We just need to advance our robotics so we can send more unmanned Mars missions to gather samples and explore for water/life.

RE: I wonder...
By Connoisseur on 6/4/2010 12:06:40 AM , Rating: 2
Robots do a piss poor job at inspiring people. Look at the difference between the Apollo programs and every unmanned exploration mission since. We've ostensibly learned a LOT more about our universe in the decades after than we did sending a few people to the moon. But, few care that we launched some nameless faceless robot out of our planet to another planet.

Send HUMANS to another planet? Now that would be a hell of a thing.

RE: I wonder...
By WoWCow on 6/4/2010 12:08:39 AM , Rating: 5
Play a bout of mass effect and figure out what humans found on Mars - all the reason you need!

On a serious note to the article - 6 people locked in a capsule eating canned and frozen goods for 520 days is more of a psychology experiment more than anything.

Quite a number of us takes living space for granted; but sharing a confined space with your fellow men for extended periods of time will feel like prison. The food the participants will be eating... I would assume those food would be loaded with preservatives to keep them edible but horridly tasting after a few meals.

And consider this - your only form of communication with the outside is talking to a government issued screen blabbering orders and ideals all over you and your family and friends will be cut off from you physically for over a year!

Ah, 1984 all over again - except in space!

RE: I wonder...
By FaceMaster on 6/4/2010 3:45:25 AM , Rating: 1
6 people locked in a capsule eating canned and frozen goods for 520 days is more of a psychology experiment more than anything.

I'm guessing you've never been to University

RE: I wonder...
By Spookster on 6/4/2010 12:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
Or ever been in the military.

RE: I wonder...
By rudolphna on 6/4/2010 9:53:47 AM , Rating: 2
Mass Effect.... Awesome game, would be even more awesome if that turned out to be true, and Charon really is a massive alien device that could connect us with dozens of other intelligent species. Oh well.

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